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Workers Vanguard No. 905

4 January 2008

Torture, Lies and Videotape

Revelations that in 2005 the CIA destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting waterboarding and other torture of detainees have once again shone a spotlight on the barbarism and depravity that define U.S. imperialism. From Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and the CIA’s “black site” secret prisons in Europe, countless detainees caught in the web of the “global war on terror” have been tortured and disappeared.

The latest scandal has touched off the usual round of hypocritical words of censure by Congressional Democrats along with multiple “investigations” from Capitol Hill to Langley, Virginia. A number of Democrats have spouted off about how waterboarding violates American “values.” In fact, Congressional leaders have been repeatedly briefed by the CIA. In September 2002, top Republican and Democratic Congressmen, including current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were given a “virtual tour” by the CIA of its detention sites, along with descriptions of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods. The purpose of the various inquiries is to cover up the extent of the crimes of U.S. imperialism and to refurbish its “democratic” credentials. The “war on terror” is thoroughly bipartisan, whatever the occasional tactical differences between the Democratic and Republican parties of capitalism.

CIA torture is no aberration but is just as much a part of the fabric of the capitalist-imperialist system as the carnage in U.S.-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and the barbaric death penalty and racist police terror “at home.” What has changed since the September 11 attacks is that the government has imposed a broad array of new repressive measures—from armed forces patrolling subway systems and enhanced presidential powers to domestic surveillance and indefinite detention of “unlawful enemy combatants”—in the name of the “war on terror,” with the populace expected to accept all this as the new norm. And in this climate, bourgeois politicians openly and ghoulishly debate what torture techniques are acceptable. What used to be kept under wraps is now being made legal.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, whose appointment was secured by Senate Democrats, pointedly refused to say that waterboarding constituted torture during his confirmation hearings. This is a sure sign, as if any were necessary, that the tape-shredding “investigations” by the Justice Department and the CIA will amount to a whitewash, with the detainees left in the hands of their torturers.

Some of the hundreds of Guantánamo detainees who have endured years of hellish imprisonment recently appealed to the courts to review their cases on the grounds that evidence against them was extricated through torture. In response, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy indicated on December 21 that he may wait for the results of the investigations. In October, a prosecutor in the 2003 trial of detainee Zacarias Moussaoui wrote that the government had made “factual errors” when it denied that the CIA possessed tapes of sessions during which detainees were grilled. The destruction of videotapes occurred as detainees’ cases were finally beginning to move through the courts.

The U.S. has swept up “terror suspects” and sent them to torture and death in Syria, Israel, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere. Despite foreign policy differences with Washington, the German government, which opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as Italy and other countries have been willing agents in the CIA’s “rendition” program, providing intelligence services and, in Germany’s case, airstrips for CIA operations.

Democrats: The Other Party of U.S. Imperialism

The affair of the CIA tapes is one more embarrassment for the capitalist ruling class, which increasingly sees the acts of the Bush administration as harmful to its interests. In early December, the administration took another blow when the intelligence findings behind its accusations that Iran was developing nuclear weapons—on the road to “World War III” no less—were revealed to be a pack of lies. A new National Intelligence Estimate summary stated that Iran had stopped working toward a nuclear weapon in 2003. Being caught out in this fabrication did not cause the White House to skip a beat, with Bush retorting that Iran may be working toward a “covert nuclear weapons program.” Meanwhile, both Democratic and Republican spokesmen portray Iran as a source of instability and terror in the Near East. In the face of threats from the nuclear-armed imperialists and their Israeli allies, Iran needs nuclear weapons to deter attack. Hands off Iran!

Seizing on the increasing tribulations of the demented Bush gang, the Democratic Party is pushing to retake the White House, in good part to refurbish U.S. imperialism’s “democratic” facade. In the Democrats’ tow is the reformist left, whose protests over everything from immigrant rights to the occupation of Iraq have pushed “Anybody but Bush” politics. Typical is the reformist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), which is currently promoting January 11 protests against the U.S. torture camp at Guantánamo.

An article titled “Torture Scandal & Fascistic ‘New Norms’” in the RCP’s Revolution (30 December 2007) gives the game away. First, it makes the basic statement that “the fundamental point of departure for the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, is the interests of the U.S. ruling class.” The article then points to the “various tensions and disputes within the power structure” caused by the CIA tapes scandal and the Iraq occupation and delivers the punch line: the demonstrations can “bring new momentum into the movement to drive out the Bush regime and bring this whole program of the U.S. rulers to a halt.” When the presidential elections last rolled around, the RCP’s Revolutionary Worker (29 August 2004) advised: “Go ahead and vote for Kerry if you feel you really have to.”

“Driving out” the Bush administration is of course precisely the Democrats’ aim. The program of the RCP and other reformists only serves to further bind the working class, black people and radical youth to the capitalist system. As V.I. Lenin wrote in 1917 in The State and Revolution: “A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it.”

The government’s deliberations over waterboarding are a sure sign of a capitalist system in decay. As Eric Weiner noted in a 29 December 2007 article posted on National Public Radio’s Web site (“Waterboarding: A Tortured History”): “As the Enlightenment swept across Europe, many countries banned the practice…. Waterboarding moved underground, but did not disappear by any means. In fact, it has experienced something of a revival in the 20th century.” What Weiner describes is the decline of such torture methods during the period marked by the bourgeois French Revolution of 1789-93 and their resurgence in the epoch of imperialism, the epoch of capitalism’s death agony. Weiner notes the use of waterboarding by Japan in World War II, by U.S. troops in the Philippines at the start of the 20th century, by the French in Algeria and by the British in Palestine (against both Arabs and Jews) in the 1930s, and by others.

The capitalist rulers who claim the banner of “freedom” and “civilization” have carried out mass murder and torture on an immense scale in their drive to secure world markets, cheap labor and raw materials. American capitalism was born on the backs of black chattel slaves and its rulers carried out the genocide of the Native American population as they expanded their reach on the continent. U.S. imperialism marked its entrance on the world scene with the Spanish-American War of 1898, a time when black people in the U.S. were being lynched at a rate of one every other day. U.S. forces slaughtered up to half a million Filipinos between 1899 and 1902 to suppress a nationalist uprising.

Many of the most notorious and bloody activities of U.S. imperialism were carried out under Democratic Party administrations: the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945; the reduction of Korea to rubble in the early 1950s; the napalming and systematic devastation of Vietnam, along with torture and mass murder; the terror bombing of Serbia in 1999. U.S. imperialism killed some six million people in its counterrevolutionary wars in Korea and Vietnam. Particularly after WWII, the U.S. has supported and armed murderous neocolonial rulers—from Mobutu in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) to Pinochet in Chile—as well as death squads in Latin America and elsewhere in order to reinforce imperialist subjugation.

To put an end to imperialism and its atrocities requires a proletarian revolution that smashes the bourgeois state and creates a workers state with a planned, collectivized economy. Such a revolution, extended internationally, will create a world of abundance in which torture, along with militarism and other props of capitalist rule, will be consigned to the dustbin of history. To mobilize the multiracial American proletariat in this fight requires the leadership of a revolutionary workers party. Such a party can be built only through breaking the chains forged by the labor bureaucracy—and reinforced by the reformists—that bind the proletariat to the Democrats and the capitalist order.

Torture U.S.A.

A key component of the U.S. prison-torture network is Pakistan, a major outpost for the occupation of Afghanistan and the “global war on terror” (see article, page 1). Under the Pervez Musharraf dictatorship, there have been mass arrests and abductions in collaboration with the CIA, often for bounties of thousands of dollars, with victims routinely disappeared or sent directly to Guantánamo Bay. One of those detainees was Abu Zubaydah, whose 2002 interrogation with “severe techniques” (in the understated words of the New York Times) was on one of the videotapes destroyed by the CIA.

Statements extracted from Zubaydah played a central role in the U.S. government’s prosecution of Jose Padilla, who was convicted in August on bogus terrorism “conspiracy” charges. Padilla was originally arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in May 2002 on trumped-up charges of plotting to set off a radioactive “dirty bomb” on U.S. soil. As an “unlawful enemy combatant,” Padilla had no way to challenge his imprisonment and no access to lawyers. When the Bush administration finally brought criminal charges against him in November 2005, it was to avoid a decision in the Supreme Court on his “unlawful enemy combatant” designation.

In its legal argument against Padilla, the government stressed that his legal team could not prove that Zubaydah had been tortured. Zubaydah had been shot during his capture and was denied painkillers as a method of torture. Interrogators strapped him to a board, wrapped his nose and mouth in cellophane and forced water into his throat. They also threatened him with death. Bombarded with noise and lights, he was deprived of sleep and became completely unhinged under torture, speaking of plots against everything from shopping malls to the Brooklyn Bridge. Binyam Muhammad, another source of “evidence” against Padilla, was reportedly whipped after his arrest in Pakistan, hung from the ceiling of his cell and later taken to Morocco, where he was tortured with a razor.

The torture of “terror suspects” marked the Padilla case from the beginning. The source of the “dirty bomb” tale was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, allegedly Number Three in command of Al Qaeda. Mohammed was one of the first of hundreds of Guantánamo detainees, charged with absolutely nothing, to be brought before a military “Combatant Status Review” tribunal. There he “confessed” to being the mastermind of the September 11 attacks—and fantastical plots to assassinate Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, the Pope, et al. All evidence of torture was blacked out of transcripts of Mohammed’s testimony.

In an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief submitted on behalf of Jose Padilla, the Spartacist League and Partisan Defense Committee noted that “the Executive has imposed martial law on Jose Padilla, a citizen, on the pretext of an alleged ‘war on terrorism’ which is in fact not a military conflict but a political agenda. This is an unprecedented assertion of imperial powers by the President.” (The brief is printed in Class-Struggle Defense Notes No. 31, Summer 2003.) Warning of the dangers that the Padilla case posed, the brief noted: “A tool of government repression is to declare political opponents of government policy ‘terrorists.’ This defines them as ‘outlaws’ of civil society, providing the state with a license to suspend democratic rights, criminalize political activity and ultimately to engage in legalized murder.” It is in the direct interest of the labor movement, opponents of racist repression and defenders of civil liberties to demand: Free Jose Padilla! Free all the detainees!

Frame-ups, spying, police terror are the everyday workings of the capitalist state. The New York Times recently reported that longtime FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent a proposal to Democratic president Harry S. Truman, just days after the start of the Korean War in 1950, to suspend the right to habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans suspected of “treason, espionage and sabotage.” While this particular plan was turned down, Congress later that year authorized the detention of “dangerous radicals” if a national emergency were declared by the President. In the 1970s, the FBI’s “administrative index” (ADEX) list included the Spartacist League and other organizations and individuals among the thousands to be rounded up and put into concentration camps in the event of a national emergency. The Spartacist League successfully sued, compelling the FBI to concede that Marxist ideas and activity cannot be equated with violence, terrorism and criminal enterprise.

The bourgeois state is an apparatus of violence designed to protect capitalist rule and profits against the exploited and the oppressed. In the U.S., this machinery of repression, with the death penalty at its pinnacle, is racist to the core. In Chicago, a July 2006 special prosecutor’s report acknowledged some instances of beatings and torture by the police Violent Crimes Unit from 1973 to 1991 that particularly targeted black “suspects” on Chicago’s South Side. Despite testimony that nearly 200 people were brutalized and tortured, the special prosecutors decided not to prosecute a single cop.

Charles A. Graner, sadistic torturer at Abu Ghraib, was trained as a guard in the enormous U.S. prison system. In 1998 he was accused of putting a razor in a dish of mashed potatoes that was served to an inmate at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institute-Greene, the facility that holds class-war prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther and later a prize-winning journalist and supporter of Philadelphia MOVE, on death row. In San Francisco, a case against eight former Black Panther Party members charged last January for the 1971 killing of a police officer rests in part on “confessions” by two of the accused that were coerced by New Orleans cops in 1973 through electric shocks, cattle prods and other torture methods. In its efforts to destroy an entire generation of black militants, the FBI-police COINTELPRO campaign included the killing of 38 Black Panthers and the frame-up of hundreds of others. Drop the charges against the S.F. 8!

The apparatus of the capitalist state has been greatly strengthened by measures enacted in the “war on terror.” However, what the government is actually able to get away with will ultimately be determined by the level of social struggle. We fight to forge a workers party that acts as a tribune of the people, mobilizing the social power of the proletariat on behalf of all the exploited and oppressed. In the course of such struggle, the proletariat must be won to understanding the need to carry out a socialist revolution that smashes the capitalist state and establishes a dictatorship of the proletariat, a workers government where those who labor rule.


Workers Vanguard No. 905

WV 905

4 January 2008


Torture, Lies and Videotape


Pakistan in Crisis After Bhutto Assassination

Down With Bush, Democrats’ "War on Terror"

U.S. Out of Afghanistan, Iraq!


Protesters Counter New Drive to Execute Mumia

Free Mumia Abu-Jamal!


ILWU: Fight Racist Noose Provocations at L.A. Ports!


Chicago Holiday Appeal Speech

"Join Us in the Fight for a Socialist Future!"


Bourgeois Democracy and Proletarian Revolution

(Quote of the Week)


John White Must Go Free!

Convicted for Defending Family Against Racist Attack


Article Confirms: WV Told the Truth About KAL 007

(Editorial Note)


PDC Fact Sheet

Murdered by Mumia: Big Lies in the Service of Legal Lynching

Mumia Is Innocent! Free Him Now!